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A Spike Lee Joint Revisited

Da Mayor: Doctor, always do the right thing.
Mookie: That's it? I got it, I'm gone.

Last night, I watched "Do The Right Thing" all the way through for the first time in six or seven years. The first time I saw it was on July 4, 1989 with my mother. Pure cinematic fireworks. All-American and revolutionary. We were both intrigued by this movie that had made such a splash at Cannes earlier that year. We didn't know anyone else who'd seen it, but we had seen Spike Lee's previous movie ("School Daze" featuring my Dad.) There were only another dozen viewers in that theatre in Jacksonville. We had no idea what we were getting into. When the movie was done, we all sat through the credits in stunned silence.

DTRT became a lightning rod that summer amid blockbusters like "Batman," "Ghostbusters 2," and "Indiana Jones 3." The opening sequence is iconic: Public Enemy's aural assault, the visual style of DP Ernest Dickerson and the electrifying solo dance routine of Rosie Perez. From the get go, DTRT is on fire. One hot day in a Brooklyn furnace.

So many classic lines fill the script. I won't even try to quote them. But I know that my GU posse brothers and I could recite most of the movie by the time September '89 rolled around. It was all we could talk about for days at a time.

Many careers were launched by DTRT along with Rosie Perez: Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Lawrence, John Tutturro, Robin Harris, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn. Oh how young they all look. And it brought Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee to a whole new audience. The only actor Oscar nominated from the cast, Danny Aiello was in the middle of a career high ("Moonstruck" preceded it). Speaking of Oscars, so many of the performances could have been recognized. Especially, Davis & Dee's work. In a just world Bill Nunn's doomed Radio Raheem would have been honored, too. The fact that DTRT wasn't even nominated for Best Picture is silly, considering "Driving Miss Daisy" won. Whew, what was we thinking, America!?

A decade ago, the AFI 100 was first published and I was personally outraged by DTRT's dismissal. Frankly, I would argue that Spike Lee's magnum opus is the most important American movie of the last 30 years. We are still struggling with the issues and the aftermath in our "post-racial" America. I have talked to people who think "Malcolm X" is Lee's best work. No disrespect, but as far as original material goes DTRT can't be touched. The film is a bit of a time capsule with its nods to Africa medallions, Air Jor-DANS, and day-glo biker shorts (au courant for 1989), but the themes are timeless. There may be better films that this, but none that can spark conversation, evoke a laugh or make me weep for humanity like it.

When Radio Raheem's body shudders to its end and falls face first onto his "LOVE" brass knuckles, I break down like a baby. Every single time.

I encourage you to watch "Do The Right Thing" and revisit the power of cinema, great storytelling and potent acting and vibrant direction. I remember many critics thought Lee was copping out. He was supposed to give us solutions, he was supposed to work it out for us, give us answers. Says who? The best art asks us to search ourselves for the answers. DTRT forces us to.

That's my 2 cents.

Peace... always


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